This article ran as the "Last Call" in the May 2008 issue of The American Spectator. To subscribe to our monthly print edition, click here.
I'LL NEVER FORGET the first time I threw away my vote. Competitive elections come to Massachusetts as often as Halley's comet and in 1996 Bill Weld was running a spirited race to unseat Sen. John Kerry. Weld was not an ideal conservative and his sudden lack of interest in his job as governor, to which he had been re-elected with 71 percent of the vote just two years prior, was troubling. But he was a tax cutter and a budget balancer, which was good enough for Bay State standards. And his opponent was John Kerry.
Unfortunately, Weld had slowly been making the transition from Republican scourge of Beacon Hill, a flinty new Calvin Coolidge, to Billy Bulger's best pal. He had just signed a massive pay raise for the Democratic state legislature. Worse, Weld always tried to please the Boston Globe -- "the bow-tied bum kissers of Morrissey Boulevard," as Howie Carr called them -- with ostentatious displays of social liberalism. Yet always I would remind myself that I lived in Massachusetts. What more did I expect?
The final straw was Weld's comments about Clarence Thomas, a conservative who risked it all fighting the world's bow-tied bum kissers. Wilting under pressure from Kerry the windsurfer, Weld recanted his support of Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court. "Thomas has been a real disappointment on the court," Weld told the Globe. "I think he has been far too brittle and inflexible." Now Weld said he "wouldn't vote for [Thomas] on a bet."
Muttering under my breath as I threw down my copy of the boring broadsheet, I swore I wouldn't vote for Weld on a bet. That November, I cast a lonely ballot for Susan Gallagher, the nominee of something called the Conservative Party, consequences be damned. Gallagher, as her party's name suggested, was more conservative than Weld anyway.
In the end, it didn't make any difference. Kerry won a third term with 52 percent, meaning that Weld would still have lost even if Gallagher hadn't been an option. The Conservative Party didn't do well enough to qualify for automatic ballot access, which might have endangered Republicans in future elections. Weld ended up bolting the Bay State anyway, when Bill Clinton tapped him for an ambassadorship and Jesse Helms decided he wouldn't vote for Weld on a bet either. But I was forever changed: I've voted third-party at least once in every succeeding election, including the next two Senate races.
Friends often warn me that I'm just wasting my vote. But I'm a Republican from Massachusetts. Save the occasional gubernatorial election, I always waste my vote. The typical candidate for whom I pull the lever loses by 30 points. I dance in the streets like a drunken Red Sox fan if one loses by only 20 points. Mitt Romney was considered a Republican success story because he received 41 percent of the vote against Ted Kennedy. In 2002, the Republicans didn't even field a candidate against John Kerry. The only way I could oppose him was to vote Libertarian.
The simple act of registering as a Republican in Massachusetts, where competitive GOP primaries are rare and Democrats reign, is morally equivalent to a protest vote. That's why just 13 percent of registered voters are Republicans. It may be pointless to trudge to the polls to vote against some Kennedy-Kerry clone when the outcome is preordained. But at least I can tell myself I had nothing to do with whatever mess follows.
If I had voted for a third-party candidate in 2000, Massachusetts would have still gone for Al Gore. George W. Bush would have still become president. I wouldn't have had any more impact on the final result than I did as a tiny red dot in a vast state of blue. But I could have been a little smugger in conversations about how much the federal government has grown over the past eight years of nation-building and budget-busting.
The worst thing about 2000 is that Florida's hanging chads fooled people into believing their votes will normally decide elections. In most cases, your vote only matters to you. If you don't use it to take your own stand, then it's truly a wasted vote. So Bill Weld taught me.